February 2010

Cuba Libre

  • Deandra Miranda
  • Johnny Houston
  • Tropical Holiday
  • Walter Davis & Bjorn Fleuren
  • Eva Ladare
  • Pablo Moix
  • La Descarga Daiquiri
  • Mark Houston
  • Steve Livigni
  • The Next Level

LA DESCARGA rum bar transports you to a Havana that
exists only in tropical memories by TESSA BENSON
produced by WYATT PEABODY / photographs by Peden + Munk

Rarely do you find a themed bar in Los Angeles that doesn’t involve three levels, a few deejays and more than your fair share of Jersey Shore extras “beating up the beat” to house music. Well, no longer.

Enter La Descarga, a Cuban bar/lounge about to open on a nondescript section of Western Avenue. It’s Los Angeles’ next-generation rum bar, a quasi speakeasy with an unmarked black metal door and a reservation-only rule. (But fear not—just email, and they’ll accommodate.)

Walking up a narrow staircase to the tiny check-in room, you’re reminded of an apartment walk-up (similar to the genius concept of the old Beatrice Inn in NYC). A raven-haired hostess escorts you through a wooden armoire—à la The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—complete with hanging white linen suits, onto the raised metal walkway of a bilevel space, on which a combo plays. (We’re talking merengue, mambo, Latin rhythms—no top 40 or hip-hop here.) Below beckons a floor-to-ceiling bar made from white marble and a schizophrenic mishmash of woods. So naturally, down you go.

The parlor-like club is designed to evoke a pre-Fidel Cuba—before things got sticky—back when people knew how to enjoy the finer things in life, even if they didn’t own a sugarcane farm. As you wait for your drink, a trapdoor in the ceiling opens, and scantily clad dancers make their way down for a stint on the bartop, before returning from whence they came.

Serious barmen Pablo Moix (Portfolio Mixologist of Bacardi USA) and Steve Livigni (the Doheny) manage the drinks and oversee the operation with twin owners Mark and Johnny Houston (of the Piano Bar and the Bar fame). The formula is simple, says Mark: “It’s about good drinks, good music and good people.”

Moix and Livigni are the real deal, inventing libations with the obsession of mad scientists. And though the drinks are innovative, the philosophy behind them is old style. “Here,” Moix says, “we put the bottle in front of you and explain what each ingredient is and the history of the components that are going into the drink.”

The lone exception is their Next Level—a breathtaking concoction poured into a 32-degree spherical glass made from hollowed-out ice that rests atop a base of shaved ice. Ask what’s in it, and both hesitate. “Barmen can be really catty. We want to hold onto the ingredients like the Holy Grail,” says Moix. “We’re going to have an entire Next Level menu. Maybe make some for two—like Lady and the Tramp, where they share the pasta.”

In keeping with the clandestine theme, there’s an adjoining cigar room—appropriately accessed through a dark alley—that sells 10 different types of hand-rolled cigars.

One thing’s for sure—you won’t have to worry about Fidel raiding the place—unless he gets wind of the quality of the cigars, that is.

Opens Feb. 2; 1159 Western Ave., L.A., no phone yet, ladescargala.com.